The first 30 minutes of this two-hour film are great. It opens with a man, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), fleeing some bad situation in a French city with his 5-year-old son, Sam (Armand Verdure). They board a train, they take their seats, they are broke. During the trip, the father gathers abandoned and uneaten food from other seats and feeds himself and his hungry son. Eventually, they arrive at a seaside town in sunny southern France, settle into Ali's sister's house (which is in a working-class neighborhood), and begin a new life. As I said, all of this is great. Ali gets a job as a bouncer at a nightclub, starts fucking curvy women at the local gym, and sends his son to school.
One night while working at the club, Ali helps a woman, Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), who has been beaten by some drunkard. The scuffle leaves a wound on her long and sexy legs. Ali drives her home, meets her boyfriend, and discovers that she works with killer whales at a cheesy Sea World–like theme park. Later, we see Stephanie working the crowd at the theme park (the whales do their tricks to the most bland pop music—"I like to move it, move it/I like to move it, move it"). Then an accident happens: Stephanie falls into the water and loses consciousness. When she wakes in a hospital, the film starts its slide from greatness to mediocrity.
Rust and Bone could easily have been a deep and penetrating look at poverty and class struggle in post-crash France, but it is instead about a kind of fight club (men meet and beat each other up for money) and a sexual affair between Ali and Stephanie, whose accident with the killer whale costs her both of her legs. Indeed, the core image of the film is a sex scene that involves Ali, a legless Stephanie, and incredible special effects. Ali has no problem fucking her ("Text me when you need it"), and Stephanie begins to depend on his willing cock for self-esteem. This paradise, however, does not last for long. Ali does something stupid and must flee not only the town, but his sister and son. The end of this film will not leave you satisfied.